For the cover of this year’s festival programme we have an image of one of the several renderings of Teucer fashioned by the mostly Victorian British sculptor W. Hamo Thornycroft. Thornycroft was maternal uncle to the great war poet Sigfried Sassoon. His studies of the famed archer from the Iliad date to the beginning of the last century. The Tate in London has a bronze. The version pictured here from the collection of the Crawford, Cork, is a no less splendid plaster original, subtly different in pose from the Bronze and more discretely attired.
In the Iliad only the repeated interventions of a super-powered divinity could prevent Teucer from killing his maternal uncle, Hector. The example of Teucer (a Greek with a Trojan mother) shows that even transnational conflicts can be at their very basis fratricidal. The Iliad also reminds us that poetry has been concerned with the theme of war since earliest times, reminds us that war has always been with us and tragically, is unlikely to be irradicated during any of our lifetimes.
Many of the poets gathered in this programme have written substantially about war, about imperialism, post-colonialism and general physical threat. They have also written about other matters, for all of life goes into poetry. Thornycroft and Sassoon were born into the Belle Époque, when war in a globalised form was absent from the homelands of the Western nations, nations which had waged utter devastating, internecine war earlier in the 19th Century. People must have thought, a few years before the Great War, that peace would last for ever. But peace had existed across the globe only in pockets. Interminable were the military actions of conquest and oppression waged by the great powers against less technologically-endowed polities; military actions which we can now see were mere rehearsals for the massive destruction those great powers would wield on one another. The technologically-endowed appear not to have changed their behaviour in our century.In 2023 we stand at another crossroads, a period which might be retrospectively defined as a new Belle Époque, determined to terminate itself, where peace has never been ubiquitous but where uncalculated massive destruction threatens us all. Leon Trotsky was not a poet but could have been when he said: “You might not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
Poetry makes nothing happen – at least not the ‘happen’ that bullets make, but it allows us to sing amidst the advancing gloom, to remind us of what we have to lose and of the pains we stand to unprofitably gain. While we render our poems, we will not render ourselves up for sacrifice.
— Patrick Cotter, poet, festival director
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